Following two races on legendary European circuits, Round 3 of the Playseat® SMS-R Series took us to Japan, and the awesome Fuji Speedway. The modern layout at Fuji was first redesigned for Formula One, but it has since become a staple of Super GT and the World Endurance Championship. Like many modern circuits, it has a huge start-finish straight to provide slipstreaming possibilities, and some tight technical sections elsewhere in the lap. Including some very challenging switchback corners in the final sector.
After the first two races in the Series, we arrived at Fuji with the overall standings in both classes beginning to take shape. The Pro Class win in Round 2 at Monza went to Team Redline's Magic_Michael, but it was teams ACR and VP who put in the most consistent team performances, to come out first and second overall in the Pro Class team standings. Team Redline sat in third place overall coming into Round 3, just ahead of Oscaro in fourth.
In Challenger Class, Monza victory was taken by THR Operator with an incredible drive on dry tyres in wet conditions. He arrived at Monza with the points lead in Challenger Class, ahead of Pelucaa and Mr Van Ommen, who shared the same points total after two races.
It's still all to play for in both the GT3 Pro Class and the TCR Challenger Class, to decide which teams and drivers will make it to the finals at Mercedes-Benz World. Don't forget to grab your tickets to see the Finals live and in-person on Saturday May 11.
Follow on below to catch-up on the Race 3 livestream, read our race report, and check out the latest standings.
Qualifying saw a great return to form in the Pro Class for the Veloce drivers. Storm set a fantastic lap early in the session, and never looked back. He was on pole, with Team Redline's Magic_Michael in second, and his Veloce teammate, James Baldwin was third.
In the Challenger Class it was Khaki who grabbed the pole position, with the two FA Racing boys, Kristian Kwietniewski and Alexander Dornieden just behind him.
Qualifying took place on a sunny afternoon, but the race provided a new challenge for our drivers - darkness. The race started in the sunshine, but as night fell the drivers had to cope with reduced visibility and falling track temperatures, which made it tricky to spot braking and turn-in points. Then the sun rose again and the track temperatures climbed back up in the final few laps.
Veolce's Storm lead the way through a chaotic first corner at the start, followed by ACR's Jardier and Veloce's James Baldwin. This came after Lazarus' DiHeidi and one or two others got caught out in a three-wide squeeze. Kristian Kwietniewski took the early lead in Challenger class on the opening lap.
The drivers then began to settle into their rhythm as they waited for darkness to arrive. Storm pulled out a bit of a gap on the opening lap, but Jardier seemed to find a faster race pace early on and kept the pressure on the Pro Class leader. Villalobos then moved to the front in the Challenger class ahead of Kwietniewski, with a 4 car group close behind, as the sun began to set. At the same time, Jardier closed to within half a second of Storm at the front.
In the Pro Class midfield there was a great scrap between DiHeidi and VP's Yoohan as night fell, with terrific defending from Yoohan which forced DiHeidi to make his overtake attempts around the outside, including a spectacular side-by-side moment which lasted through the first entire first sector of the lap. They went at it again through the switchbacks in the final sector, with ACR's Leon involved for good measure. It was superb racing.
However, their battle brought the rest of the Pro Class closer together behind them as Yoohan became a cork in the bottle, with a train of cars behind him. DeHeidi finally made his move up the inside of Yoohan into turn one to take fifth place, but then he made a mistake and ran wide later in the first sector, which allowed Yoohan to slip back through to retake the position. Then there was a shock at the front of Pro Class as Storm picked up a two second track limits penalty whilst under pressure from Jardier, which put his lead in jeopardy.
In Challenger class Villalobos still lead the way, with Dornieden second and Kwietniewski third as their race long battle continued. Then "traffic time" came into play as the Pro Class GT3 machines began to lap the Challengers' Touring Cars. We then saw constant changes of position in the Pro Class train as they mixed it up with the Challengers in the dark, and Lazarus' Murphy managed to make his way up into fifth place.
Yoohan got his elbows out too and made a fantastic move in the final corner as the drivers in the main train kept going three-wide, corner-after-corner. Unfortunately, Oscaro's BBence and Red Bull Racing's Joni Tormala made contact as the wheel-to-wheel racing got a little too close for comfort during these spectacular squabbles. Then we had a big incident as Challenger driver, Khaki got tangled up with Yoohan as Yoohan moved to lap him in his GT3 Mercedes.
Up at the front of Pro Class, the gaps closed up amongst the top four with Storm in the lead, albeit with a two second penalty hanging over him. Jardier was still second, with James Baldwin third and Magic_Michael fourth.
Jardier tried to make a move on Storm, but got squeezed out which allowed Magic_Michael to sneak into second. Then the commentators realised that Michael had a two second penalty of his own, which meant that Baldwin and Jardier in third and fourth could actually fighting for the net lead of the race. However, their battle allowed Storm and Magic_Michael to pull away again in front, and begin to protect themselves against their penalties.
At the end of the race, Veloce's Storm crossed the line in first place. However, both Veloce drivers collected post-race penalties from the stewards for contact with other drivers. This cost them a couple of positions, and gave the win to Team Redline's Magic_Michael, his second victory in two weeks. ACR's Jardier took second after the penalties, with Storm third and James Baldwin fourth for Veloce. Despite this, it was still a hugely improved result for Veloce, which brings them back into contention for a place in the Finals.
In Challenger Class, Villalobos finished first on the road, but he too picked up a post-race penalty, so the win went to Kristian Kwietniewski. Villalobos was second, with WilliamsJIM Popsu third in the end. There were also a couple of unfortunate disqualifications in the Challenger Class, for THR Operator and Khaki. Operator was penalised for stopping on the circuit during the latter stages in the race. Khaki was penalised for his part in the incident with VP's Yoohan, where he took him off the circuit whilst being lapped by the Pro Class driver.
All of this means that the standings are very tight going into the Final Round, as we wait to see which teams and drivers will make it to the Series Finals at Mercedes-Benz World. In Pro Class the leaders, Team ACR look pretty safe to make it to the Finals, as do Team Redline. However, there is a very close battle for third and fourth in the teams standings, with VP, Lazarus, Oscaro and Veloce all in with a shout of making it to the Finals. In Challenger Class, the top five all look like safe bets to make it to the Finals, with Kwietniewski leading the way. The battle for the final few places looks like it will be between Khaki, THR Dalking, Villalobos, and VP Ace.
Tune in for the Final Round in the online series, live from Watkins Glen at 20:00 BST on Thursday April 25. Subscribe on YouTube to get ready.
Race 3 Results